Innovation on two continents

  • November 1, 2016
Innovation on two continents

A start-up founded by a Gates Cambridge Scholar has scooped a top award from Facebook.

The award will allow us to scale our offerings more rapidly internationally, accelerating what is already a profitable and socially impactful business.

Riaz Moola

A UK and South African-based start-up founded by a Gates Cambridge Scholar has won Facebook's top award for innovation in education in Africa.

Hyperion Development, a social enterprise founded and directed by Riaz Moola while he was an undergraduate and developed during his master's at the University of Cambridge, has taken the $230,000 prize for its pioneering work in the field of computer science education which aims to both boost the South African economy and also act as a social enterprise model for exporting skills from Africa.

Riaz [2014] founded the social enterprise after being confronted at university by the huge differences in educational opportunity in his country, particularly in his own subject, Computer Science. Inspired by recent MOOC platforms such as Coursera, he created an online course platform adapted to Africa which paired tutors – typically Computer Science graduates – with students trying to learn programming through a low-bandwidth, text-based resource. The aim was to lead a national initiative to revolutionise the fields of Computer Science and software development in South Africa. The platform has grown to be the largest of its kind in Southern Africa and Hyperion Development is now going international.

To do so, it has developed a novel business model: it offers part-time, online courses to students in the UK through its UK site which went live this week. These students are then paired with expert coding mentors sourced from the top 1% of raw talent in Africa. That means that when people learn online with Hyperion, they get a dedicated, one-on-one mentor supporting them through the course on a daily basis – not just a computer marking their work or pre-recorded videos.

But the company takes it a step further – ‘to solve the world's largest educational problem’, is how Hyperion phrases it:  for every course the company sells abroad, it delivers a free course to a low-income or unemployed youth in South Africa, creating employment and educational opportunities in African countries where youth unemployment is as high as 54%.

The company has already grown into the largest provider of software development education in the African market, with over 10,000 registered students from 14 countries. In then selects the top 1% of students to become online trainers for UK-based students.

Its model was recognised by Facebook's Internet.org Innovation Challenge in Africa Awards which aim to identify “leading examples of … online services that provide real value in the categories of education and economic empowerment”. Hyperion won the top prize in the category of education. Facebook’s Founder, Mark Zuckerberg, congratulated the winners in a recent Facebook post.

Hyperion’s model has also been backed by Google – making it one of the few African organisations backed by both tech giants.

Riaz said: “The award will allow us to scale our offerings more rapidly internationally, accelerating what is already a profitable and socially impactful business. We’re excited to work with Facebook and Internet.org to make software development education and careers open to all.”

Hyperion, which is headquartered in the UK in Cambridge as an incubated start-up at Cambridge's Judge Business School, has just confirmed another $40,000 in matched funding from Google and the South African Department of Science & Technology, bringing their 2016 grant funding total so far to US $270,000.

The Hyperion team work from offices in Durban and Cambridge. Riaz says its strong international links – team members include several Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh graduates – mean it can ensure software development in South Africa matches the highest international standards.

Latest News

Using virtual reality in the service of stroke recovery

Brielle Stark [2012] is pioneering new ways of approaching the language problems faced by stroke patients. She was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award to conduct research in Australia, starting in Spring 2025. She will be moving to Australia to work with her long-time colleague Dr Lucy Bryant at the University of Technology Sydney on […]

The ethical implications of AI

Three Gates Cambridge Scholars address the ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence and the need for ethics to keep up with the pace of change in AI in the fourth episode of the Gates Cambridge podcast, So, now what? out today [30th May]. The episode, featuring Andreas Vlachos, Kerry McInerney and Richard Diehl Martinez was hosted […]

Rethinking feminist approaches to gender-based violence

Ilaria Michelis [2019] was completely surprised when, earlier this year, she was awarded this year’s Journal of Gender Studies Janet Blackman Prize. The Prize celebrates scholarship on international feminist movements and trade unions/women in work.  It was awarded for an article she published the year before in the Journal of Gender Studies based on an issue […]

Scholars scoop three social impact awards

Three Gates Cambridge Scholars have been recognised with awards from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. The 15 Social Impact Awards in six categories were launched for the first time by Cambridge Hub in 2018-19, to celebrate students who have shown exceptional achievement in, and commitment to, creating positive social change. Since then, […]